The world of the Twelve Kingdoms is a really interesting, beautiful place, with a rich chinese-inspired aesthetic, full of many different kinds of people. My favourite things about it are the little things that make it seem real, even taking into account the many fantastical or mythical elements present.
This is a world with a census, where you can clearly see the structure of how each country is run, how each village is run. Fuyumi Ono writes fantasy, yes, but she writes in that way that Tolkien describes in his essay on fairy stories: it’s a secondary world that is internally consistent, and connected enough with out own that to suspend disbelief for the magical is not an issue. EVEN MORE, these mythological elements are seamlessly incorporated into the mundane, with visible effects on the way people lead their lives.
The Twelve Kingdoms were created by a god, Tenten, and they are governed according to his decrees. All kinds of supernatural things happen if kingdoms stray from his divine mandate, and this has very real consequences on the lives of the whole population. When your crops are flooded because God is sending more natural disasters your way, or your town is getting attacks by wild monsters, then what god (or what got set out the world to do) has a palpable effect! ALSO, babies are born out of trees: this affects everything from gender roles to the concept of marriage, and is mightily interesting.
SO MANY LADIES, ALL SO AWESOME. There are tons of wonderful girls and women who are developed, interesting, excellent characters. Ministers, secretaries, officials, queens, performers, warriors, princesses, scribes, and on and on.
From minor characters to protagonists this world is populated with women. (For the record, though not perfect, The Twelve Kingdoms passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours)
MY FAVOURITE OF THE LADIES is of course YŌKO NAKAJIMA, the marvelous reluctant empress of Kei, and our protagonist. She’s so great she gets to be a reason all of her own. She’s caring, she’s strong, she’s firm and she’s determined to live well. She comes very far from the person she used to be, and she’s only enriched by her experiences and all the hardship she endures, though it nearly broke her.
6) The character growth
Speaking of, the character growth in this series is AMAZING and it’s all over the place, happening not just to Yōko but to everyone. Every single character is affected by his or her experiences, and small ways they change and progress (or not). It’s a delight to see a dear character stand up for themselves and become self-assured, competent and formidable.
Sometimes it’s friendship that’s the catalyst for growth, and other times friendship just is. There are so many amazing friendships everywhere. To name a few: The King of En and his Kirin, who are like bros, trusting each other even as they jokingly insult one another; Yōko and Shoukei and Suzu, who got to have conversations about life and happiness in the middle of a revolution, and who have each other’s backs; Rakushun and Yōko, who admire, and trust and support each other to an amazing degree; Shushou and Rikou, so very apart in age and circumstances but who get along regardless, etc. There are so many and they’re all fantastic.
8) The themes
This series mostly deals with predestined queens and kings, and it deals with many questions surrounding fate, and what is good, and how to balance conflicting priorities in a real word setting, and the many, many issues that come with trying to make a country a better place. There are also the overarching themes about growth and happiness, trust, responsibility and accountability and many others.
With the mythology and cosmology of this world, Fuyumi Ono lays out a world unlike our own. There are some problems that come directly from the system she presents, and she acknowledges them and addresses them. It’s wonderful to see characters question the very basis of the universe they inhabit.
9) The politics
The Twelve Kingdoms claims to be fantasy, but it could very easily also be more a political thing, and I love it. So much intrigue and diplomacy and dealing with people, and working with and around power. You can envision how government and politics work in The Twelve Kingdoms, both at a smaller and larger scale.
Book the books and the anime have some gorgeous art. Just look at it!!
Have I managed to catch your attention? Should you want to KNOW MORE, here is a post with MORE about this Twelve Kingdoms thing, and where to read it, plus links!
The Twelve Kingdoms (also called Jūni Kokuki, “Record of 12 Countries” or “Juuni Kokki”) is a story by Fuyumi Ono that is both a series of novels and an anime. It’s one of the most well constructed and positive fantasy stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
The most prominent narrative centers around Yoko Nakajima, a submissive sixteen year old girl who lives to please those around her, reared by her controlling father to believe a very narrow idea of what girls should be. Everything changed for Yoko when a strange man approached her at school and informed her she was being hunted by demons. The man bowed to her and offered her his protection and allegiance. Yoko was panicked into accepting his offer, and given a sword to fight demons with. She was chased by the demons into the fantastical world of the twelve kingdoms, separated from her mysterious protector and stranded. The world of the Twelve Kingdoms is filled with strange customs and dangerous creatures, and in some places the outsiders that blow in from Japan and China aren’t welcomed due to the calamity caused by the storms that blow them in. This meek schoolgirl who built her life around serving others now has only herself to count on, and she is going to have to find out who she is and what she’s really made of if she wants to survive.
If you’re looking for a story that has a) has ridiculously complex and thorough world building that delves into every facet of the mythology, geography, population and governance of a high-fantasy alternate word and b) massive character development, intense psychological examination and characters having to examine the effects of abuse of power and oppression and facing sticky moral conflicts with no easy answers and oh did we mention that these complex and conflicted characters are mostly excellent ladies….well, this is the right story, my friend.
Okay, because I want to get as many people as possible into this series, I’m reblogging this review and posting something I wrote about this review and the series on my LJ a while ago. I have many followers who I’m positive would love it.
One of my favourite people on Tumblr, adventuresofcomicbookgirl does feminist reviews on anime and manga, looking at their themes and handling of social issues. I was excited that yesterday she posted a review on The Twelve Kingdoms. This series is an amazing, but still rather obscure. As mentioned in the review, it has extremely detailed world building, phenomenal character development and morally complex situations. There are also amazing, fully fleshed out ladies who go through incredible journeys to discover who they are outside of societal pressures.
There is a link in the review to both the anime, which is sold on amazon, and online translations of the original light novels. I personally prefer the light novels because we get to see inside the main characters head in the anime doesn’t allow. And as mentioned in the review, the anime adds two characters who were awkwardly inserted into the plot, and really didn’t need to be there. However, I would still highly recommend the anime. It has beautiful animation, wonderfully done music and top notch voice acting. And aside from the aforementioned changes, is very faithful to the source material. Everyone should read the review. It’s one of my favourite stories, and I can’t emphasize enough how amazing this series.
Aw thank you!
Yes, everyone needs to read and watch this series. It is basically the fantasy narrative of my hesrt.
Looking solely at anime and manga, about half the works that speak to me and I consider progressive are by women and half by men.
(For the record, here are the major ones I talk about the most- there are more, as seen on my review-
Miyazaki films (man, he does actively hire women and consider women as successors of the industry), Sailor Moon manga (woman), Sailor Moon anime (primarily men, some [maybe just one idk but she was the BEST AND SHE CREATED PRINCESS TUTU FEEL ME] female animators, some problematic changes to woman-centered, woman created work, some improvements), The Twelve Kingdoms (woman), Fullmetal Alchemist (woman), Revolutionary Girl Utena anime and movie (man, hired women, but her work on the series was often problematic))
I notice even the works written by men are by men who actively listen to,work with and are inspired by women and seek their input, and that’s the important thing to note here. Men have to be willing to do that if they want to create a work that speaks to me.
I do think there is a lot to be said for the value of feminist works written by women for women because those draw on experiences and it’s a lot more difficult for a woman to get it out there and it’s also the case of a voice that’s often suppressed actually getting to speak- that’s a powerful thing. Fullmetal Alchemist is a manga written by a woman that presented awesome female characters that had their roles downsized and gutted in the first 2003 adaption. I don’t have time to deal with anyone who doesn’t think there’s sexism at work there.
There’s also the fact there are some things that are subversive and good when coming from women that aren’t so much coming from men. When Naoko admits in interviews she loves drawing erotic stuff and naked ladies and replies to someone asking why there aren’t a lot of guys fighting in her manga with “I just really like drawing beautiful girls so there’s not room on the pages for guys” I’m like “WAY TO GO” because it’s great to see a woman be unashamed about liking to draw attractive ladies and liking sexy stuff and wanting to be open and free about her sexuality. But if a man said that, well, I mean we’ve heard that a ton of times, it’s nothing new or different, and then there’s the whole issue of the overplayed male gaze. You really don’t have to worry about that with works done by women. So that’s a point to consider.